Family Based Visa Family Visas: Answers to Frequent Questions (F-1 F-2 F-3 F-4)

  1. This article will answer common questions about the series of family-based visas - the F-1 visa, F-2 visa , F-3 visa and F-4 visa. You will learn more about how to obtain an F-visa for your wife and your children, matters concerning relatives, the Alien Relative Form I-130 and forms I-797 and I-864, who may not qualify for the F-visa, limited and unlimited visas, sponsorship, and other related immigration law issues.

    What forms are needed for family-based visas and who files them?

    A sponsoring relative must file a Petition for Alien Relative Form I-130. The petition is to be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) field office where they live.

    If I am an American citizen living abroad, can I file a visa petition overseas?

    If you have been living overseas for at least the prior 6 months before applying and you have permission from a host country to be residing there, you can file at a specific embassy abroad. Check with the U.S. Embassy website to find which one you can apply at.

    Are there different categories of family based immigrant visas?

    Yes, there are two categories: limited and unlimited.

    Are there preferences given for the “limited family-based” visa?

    There are 4 family-based Preference visas in the limited category.
    • Family First Preference (F-1): This preference is for unmarried children of U.S. citizens and their children.
    • Family Second Preference (F-2): This preference is assigned to spouses, minor children and unmarried children over the age of 20, of legal permanent residents. There is a set allocation made for 77% of this category for spouses and minor children. The other 27% is allocated for unmarried sons and daughters who are over the age of 20.
    • Family Third Preference (F-3): This preference is assigned to married sons and daughters of a U.S. citizen and their spouses and children.
    • Family Fourth Preference (F-4): This preference is given to brothers and sisters of United States citizens and their spouses and children. The U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old to be eligible to file.

    Who is eligible for the “unlimited family-based” visas?

    Unlimited family-based visas have 2 sub categories and those persons who are eligible are:
    • Immediate Relatives (IR): A spouse, widow or widower and any unmarried children under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen, as well as the parent of a U.S. Citizen who is at least 21 years old, is eligible.
    • Returning Residents (SB): Immigrants who have lived in the U.S. previously as a lawful permanent resident and want to return after visiting relatives, for more than one year, overseas are eligible.

    What forms must be filed for family-based immigration visas?

    Relatives that are U.S. citizens must obtain and file Form I-130 for a relative who wants to immigrate to the United States. You can obtain this form from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The UCSIS will send the notice of approval back on Form I-797 and send the approved petition to the Immigrant Visa Processing Center. The immigrant will then be contacted by the Visa Processing Center with further information.

    What makes an applicant ineligible for a visa?

    Applicants can be determined to be ineligible for several reasons. Some reasons are listed below:
    • Having certain illnesses and communicable diseases
    • Having dangerous physical disorders or mental disorders
    • Drug addicts
    • Criminals
    • Known terrorists
    • Having previously entered the U.S. illegally

    Foreign exchange students must have returned to their native country for a period of at least 2 years or they will be disqualified until then.

    What documents will be required by the petitioner and the beneficiary?

    The petitioner must submit an Affidavit of Support, Form I-864. The beneficiary will have to provide a current passport, birth certificate, police records and other civil documents. The consular officer will let the exact forms needed by the applicant to process the application.

    Who has to file the affidavit of support and what is it?

    The U.S. citizen who is bringing a relative to the U.S. must show they can be financially responsible and be able to support the immigrating family member.

    How long must financially responsible if you sponsor an immigrating relative?

    You have to accept full legal responsibility to financially support your relative until they become a U.S. citizen or earn 40 quarters of work credit. (Usually takes 10 years)

    Who can be a sponsor?

    Only U.S. citizens or permanent resident who lives in the United States or a territory of the United States. If you are currently living overseas, you may still qualify if you can show that you have your domicile in the United States. In addition, sponsors must have an income that is at least a minimum of 125% of the U.S. poverty level for your household size. For example, if you are married with two children and want to bring over your brother and his wife, you will have to base your income calculations on a family of six. If you have previously sponsored other immigrants, they must also be included in the total count for your family. Thus, using the previous example, if you had already brought over both your parents, your new household size would be eight (six plus your parents.) Calculations should be made at the time of your visa petition according to the then-current poverty level. The exceptions to this rule are those who are active duty members of the Armed forces in the United States. Sponsors who are in the military and will only have to prove that they earn 100% of the poverty level for their family size to be eligible.

    Are any medical exams required?

    Yes, everyone who applies for an immigration visa must have a medical examination. This is done through the consular officer who will choose the medical doctor. The applicant pays all expenses.

    Are there any limitation to how many immigrant visas can be issued each year?

    Yes, there is a set limit. If there are more applicants for a category than allowed, the visas will then be issued in chronological order. This means that the petitions were filed until the category was oversubscribed and then the filing date of the petition became the applicants’ priority date, rather than the preference category. Sometimes a category has a waiting period of several years before the priority date is reached. You can check the US Department of State Visa Bulletin to find out what the latest priority dates are.

    Is it guaranteed that a visa will be issued if you apply?

    No, there are no guarantees. Do not finalize your travel plans not quit your job until the visa is actually issued. Immigrant visas are valid for 6 months after they issued.

    Who can claim they have a right to citizenship under the United States Law?

    All people born in the United States can claim they have citizenship. Others who are born outside of the U.S. may also have a claim of citizenship if:
    • One parent or both was born in the U.S. or naturalized in the U.S.
    • At least one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the applicant's birth
    • If you believe you have a claim for citizenship, do not apply for a visa. First go to the Consular Officer who will determine if you are legally a citizen already.
    Immigration Law:
    F Visa

    Michael Wechsler

    Michael Wechsler
    Michael M. Wechsler is an experienced attorney, founder of, A. Research Scholar at Columbia Business School and of-counsel to Kaplan, Williams & Graffeo, LLC. He was also an SVP and chief Internet strategist at and legal consultant at Kroll Ontrack, a leading service e-discovery and computer forensics service provider.


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  1. hiraishin0406
    I am Charles, 25 years old, an unmarried son of a F3 visa holder. My mother recently got a letter regarding the approval of an immigrant visa from the NVC. I would like to consult if i will be able to come with them despite i am already 25 years old? My father also has an ailment. He is undergoing Hemodialysis for Chronic kidney disease. Can that be taken into consideration being the nurse of my father? Here in the Philippines, I am the major health care provider for my father as a registered nurse in the Philippines. I will humbly wait for your advice.
    Thank you and God Bless.
    Respectfully yours,
    Charles Louie M. Barbadillo